Reprint: Australian Authors VI: "Banjo" Paterson by Aidan de Brune

If the Commonwealth Government were to appoint an Australian Poet Laureate there can be no doubt that the first holder of that high office would be Andrew Barton Paterson, known far and wide as "Banjo" Paterson. His name is a household word. More truly than any other of our numerous Australian poets, he has expressed the spirit of this land in verse.

"Banjo" Paterson, now nearing seventy years of age, is the undisputed Dean of Australian, poetry. His verses, since they first began to appear in the "Bulletin," fifty years ago, have been receited throughout the length and breadth of the land, in shearing sheds, at bush concerts, wherever two or three Australians have gathered around a camp fire. The rollicking rhythm of his ballads, the apt phrases, sometimes slangy, sometimes high poetry, have brought joy to hundreds of thousands of readers and listeners.

While poets of high-falutin "schools of thought" have piped in their thin and genteel voices to meagre audiences of bored listeners, this robust singer of the wide plains and monutains of the bush laud has "bestrode them like a Colossus." The people, with their true instinct to recognise what is sincere in art, have given "Banjo" Paterson the applause which only a major poet can command. Over 100,000 copies of "The Man from Snowy River" have been sold. Probably there is not a man, woman, or child in Australia who does not know at least some of Banjo Paterson's verse by heart.

Australia's Poet Laureate has had an interesting and varied career and a wide experience of both bush and city life. He was born in 1864 at Narrambla, Xew South Wales, and was educated at the Sydney Grammar School. He practised as a solicitor for fifteen years before deciding to take up journalism, when his verses were beginning to make him famous.

"The Man from Snowy River" was published in book form in 1895, and from that time his position as a national songster was assured.

He was editor of the "Evening News" for five years, and acted as correspondent of the London "Times" on sugar-growmg, pearl-diving, and Australian subjects generally. When the Boer war broke out, he went to South Africa as Reuter's correspondent.

On the outbreak of the Great War, in 1914, he volunteered for active service wilh the A.I.F. Though over military age, he was given the rank of major, joined the Remount Unit, and saw service in Egypt and Palestine.

He has travelled extensively outback, particularly in Central Australia and the Northern Territory, where be went buffalo shooting. In one of his verses he describes typical buffalo country:

   Out where the grey streams glide,
      Sullen and deep and slow,
   And the alligators slide
      From the mud to the depths below,
   Or drift on the stream like a floating death 
   Where the fever comes on the south wind's breath
      There is the buffalo..

In addition to "The Man from Snowy River" he has published "Rio Grande's Last Race," and "Saltbush Bill," besides a novel entitled "An Outback Marriage," and a humorous book entitled "Three Elephant Power." He has also edited a collection of "Old Bush Songs."

Now, after a silence of many years, he has ready a new book of poems, which will be published before Easter, by The Endeavour Press, with illustrations by Norman Lindsay. The most popular poet and the greatest illustrator in Australia will thus collaborate for the first time in the pages of a book, though it was Norman Lindsay who designed the original cover for "The Man from Snowy River."

The title of the new verses is "The Animals Noah Forgot." In a foreword the poet explains that the native bear refused to go in the Ark because Noah did not carry a stock of gum leaves-- and the platypus refused because he was afraid of being trodden on by the elephant!

Most of the poems deal in a humorous, but very understanding way, with the Australian bush animals.

The wombat, for example:

   The strongest creature for his size,
      But least equipped for combat,
   That dwells beneath Australian sides is Weary Will the Wombat.

The Platypus, who "descended from a family most exclusive":

   He talks in a deep unfriendly growl
      As he goes on his journey lonely;
   For he's no relation to fish nor fowl,  
   Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl.
      In fact, he's the one and only!

The bandicoot, who "will come to look at a light, and scientists wonder, why":

   If the bush is burning it's time to scoot
   Is the notion of Benjaimn Bandicoot.

The flying squirrels:

   Never a care at all Bothers their simple brains;
      You can see them glide in the moonlight dim
   From tree to tree and from limb to limb.
      Little grey aeroplanes.

These few quotations show that none of the poet's old brilliance of phrase has been lost. Besides descriptions of the bush animals, there are poems on shearers, bullock drivers, cattle dogs, and a rattling good ballad of the Army Mules, which would be a credit to Rudyard Kipling, if that Dean of English Poets had rhymed it.

The multiude of admirers of Australia's national poet will welcome his "return to form." The young poets of the post-war generation might well study this book, and take a lesson from one of the "Old Hands" at the game of versifying. It is only by sheer hard work and a constant observation of men and nature that poetry euch as "Banjo" Paterson's, which looks so easy, is written.

My literary work? Well, about fifty to sixty serials, under various nom de plumes in London and New York -- some dozen of them only appearing in book form. Not until I had completed the walk around Australia, and had settled down in Sydney again, did I attempt to make use of my partiality for crooks and their works. My first story on these lines was "Dr. Night," published in the "World's News." Then followed "The Carson Loan Mystery" published by the N.S.W. Bookstall Company, Ltd., of Sydney. A little later the "Daily Guardian" (Sydney) ran "The Dagger and Cord" as a serial, and immediately it ended in the newspaper Messrs. Angus and Robertson, Ltd., published it in book form. Then, in the columns of the "Daily Guardian" followed "Fingerprints of Fate" (published by Angus and Robertson, Ltd., under the title of "The Shadow Crook"), and "The Little Grey Woman." Since then I have devoted myself more particularly to serial writing, under my own name and nom de plumes, totalling in all fourteen stories. My amusements? Two absorbing ones. Writing mystery stories and entreating federal politicians to foster a national Australian literature. The first easy -- the other apparently very difficult.

First published in The West Australian, 6 May 1933

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Note: The last paragraph of this essay is a strange one: why did de Brune think it necessary to include his own literary bibliography?  As a means of implyig he knew what he was talking about?  Given that he had a partial biography published the previous week in this same series of articles, you'd have to think that he had a certain number of words to fill about Peterson and ran a tad short.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 12, 2010 9:20 AM.

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